Vaughan Roberts. Life’s Big Questions: Six Major Themes Traced Through the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005) 175 pp.
Any theological system, whether systematic or biblical, that fails to adequately address life’s biggest issues and questions is worse than unhelpful–it is useless. The whole point of theology is practicality–taking the truths and themes of the Bible and applying them to life in an organized way. If a theological system is unbiblical, it needs to be rejected. But, if a theologicla system is biblically faithful, yet practical unhelpful, it needs to be reworked or reworded.
In Life’s Big Questions, Vaughan Roberts demonstrates how there is unity in the diversity of the Scriptures. Building off of his previous acclaimed work (God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible), Roberts presents the Kingdom of God as a unifying theme for the whole Bible and then applies his biblical theology to six of life’s big questions with this theme in mind.
In the book’s introduction, Roberts tells us that he believes that the Bible holds together in unity, even in spite of being a diverse collection of writings with various genres and historical and literary contexts. The Bible has one supreme author (God) with one main subject (the person and work of Jesus Christ) (10). In Life’s Big Questions, Roberts seeks “to help readers know how to use it” (11). He traces the kingdom of God throughout Scripture to show it as a unifying theme (13). Roberts strives to map out a way for understanding six worldview questions in light of the eternal kingship of God: Who is the king? What does it mean to be human? How should we view money? What does God say about marriage? How does the Holy Spirit work in the world and in our lives? What part does mission play in the Christian life?
Early in the first chapter, Roberts provides the framework for which he will analyze the above six questions—an overview of the Bible’s story-line as it relates to the kingdom of God (14). Roberts begins with the pattern of the kingdom, referencing creation before the fall as recorded in Genesis. He then moves to describe the perished kingdom, which describes post-Fall humanity. Next, Roberts explains the promised kingdom as God’s covenant promises given to Abraham. The next element is the partial kingdom, which encompasses the time when God’s covenant promises are partially fulfilled in Israel’s history. The prophesized kingdom is the era in which the prophets point to a final and future fulfillment of those promises.
Roberts then moves to the New Testament with the sixth stage of his framework, which he calls the present kingdom—a description of Jesus’ realized kingship during his life, death, and resurrection. Then, Roberts describes the proclaimed kingdom as the time of the Apostles in which the gospel of Jesus is taken to the entire world. Finally, the perfected kingdom is that future time recorded in Revelation when Jesus will return to consummate the new creation.
Roberts utilizes this framework to explain the metanarrative of the Bible and applies this framework to the questions of God’s kingship (ch.1), human identity (ch.2), marriage and sex (ch.3), money and possessions (ch.4), the Holy Spirit (ch.5) and missions (ch.6).
In each of the chapters, he begins with introductory remarks, and follows with an explanation of the topic under those eight framework headings. Far from being too theological or hermeneutical in his approach to the biblical canon, Roberts also concludes each chapter with an application of this biblical theology with specific application questions. His inclusion of a “summary” section at the end of every chapter is very helpful in seeing the big picture of how the kingdom of God unfolds in relation to each particular question.
Roberts effectively answers six of life’s big questions with his helpful eight-part biblical-theological model of the kingdom. Even more crucial to the lasting impact of his work, Roberts is able to convince the reader his model can be easily applied to other worldview questions or life issues. Roberts aptly shows that the Bible is unified in its own theme of kingdom, even though each component of the eight-part model may not apply to every theme that he strives to answer. For example, he answers the question of human identity by using only five of the eight components (60).
An example of Roberts’ effective explanation and application of the theme of the kingdom of God is found in chapter one. Roberts successfully explains how the “once and future king” rules the world throughout the canon of Scripture. In his explanation of the partial kingdom as it relates to God’s kingship, Roberts helps readers understand how the era of the judges and kings fits into the story-line of the Bible. He shows that in the continuous cycle of sin of the Israelites, the people of God wanted a king “of the kind that God had promised before they entered the land” so that in the Promised Land “things would improve” (19).
Roberts then begins unveiling the story of the kings, from Saul as “the first king they are given [that] is very different from the kind of monarch God had intended for his people” (19) and then to the adventure of finding the ideal king from Bethlehem. David is right shown as the good king that Israel waited for, he who is “anointed and is filled with the Holy Spirit” and yet “one of the many surprising choices that God makes in the Bible” (20). Roberts then shows that both the Son of David and Son of Man of the prophesized kingdom is finally fulfilled within the “reality [that] comes in Christ” (28) of the present and proclaimed kingdom.
Roberts concludes with the perfected kingdom. He puts the finishing touches on his biblical painting of “the once and future king” by showing that Christ’s finished work is the basis for the future victory over evil: “It is the past victory Jesus won on the cross that guarantees the final future victory when all his enemies at last will be destroyed” (34). This is but one example of how Roberts successfully carries out his biblical-theological theme and applies it to a worldview question.
Life’s Big Questions is a concise, yet thorough book that helps Christians better see and apply the kingdom of God as it unfolds through the Scriptures. Roberts has provided a highly practical tool for applying biblical theology to all of life’s issues. Life’s Big Questions is will help readers see the Bible as a unified whole and rightly keeps Jesus Christ front and center as the reigning King of his eternal kingdom.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.